Review: ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’

It may have taken this year's initial production, "Romeo and Juliet," to help the new artistic director find his footing, but the confident, assured and entertaining version of Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" that Des McAnuff has mounted as the final show of this year's Stratford Shakespeare Festival season proves not only that he deserves the job but that it would be in everyone's best interests if he hangs around a long time.

It may have taken this year’s initial production, “Romeo and Juliet,” to help the new artistic director find his footing, but the confident, assured and entertaining version of Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra” that Des McAnuff has mounted as the final show of this year’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival season proves not only that he deserves the job but that it would be in everyone’s best interests if he hangs around a long time.

The production crackles with energy from its first moment, and McAnuff’s direction keeps it driving along until the final curtain. Splendid fights, breathtaking aerial sequences and even some toplessness for Cleopatra’s handmaidens are all part of the hyper-theatricality.

Yet just as impressive as McAnuff’s Technicolor, Cinemascope take on this early Shaw comedy is Christopher Plummer’s performance as the aged but astute Roman leader. Longtime Stratford vet Plummer is 78, and although his advancing years are an important part of his characterization, he belies them with the vitality displayed at every turn.

Plummer earns a laugh with every witty line Shaw has given him, but when he gets into the play’s darker, more political sections, he knows how to make that great cello of a voice throb with emotional intensity.

By being generous to every actor with whom he shares the stage, Plummer displays true star quality, particularly in the performance he helps elicit from Nikki M. James as Cleopatra. James was generally regarded as a disappointment when she opened the season as Juliet, but she’s grown a lot as a performer since then and also seems far more comfortable as a Shavian minx than as a Shakespearean heroine.

McAnuff has supported his two leads with some of the best talent Stratford has to offer.

Peter Donaldson specializes in bluff, rugged military types, but he’s never delivered one as effective as his Rufio here. Cagey yet honest, wily yet forthright, Donaldson’s Rufio is a perfect living realization of what the world of realpolitik means. Diane D’Aquila makes something fine and funny out of Ftatateeta, Cleopatra’s nurse, putting all her considerable pride into her name and spitting out her scorn at those who mispronounce it with more hissing venom than any cobra. And Steven Sutcliffe is a charming and ingratiating Britannus, imbuing the potentially cartoonish role of Caesar’s secretary with great humanity without losing any of its humor.

Robert Brill’s sets are a stunning assortment of pillars and arches that keep finding new configurations, while Paul Tazewell’s costumes are vivid and striking.

Plummer’s last appearance at Stratford in 2002 as King Lear was successfully transplanted to Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont. There’s no reason to assume this crowd-pleasing production couldn’t follow the same path even more successfully. It has “hit” written all over it.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Festival Theater, Stratford, Ontario; 1,832 seats; C$101.25 $95 top

Production

A Stratford Shakespeare Festival presentation of a play in two acts by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Des McAnuff. Sets, Robert Brill; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Robert Thomson; original music, Rick Fox; fight direction, Steve Rankin; movement direction, Lisa Shriver; aerial effects, Paul Rubin; dramaturg, Robert Blacker. Opened, reviewed Aug. 17, 2008. Runs through Nov. 8.  Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Caesar - Christopher Plummer Cleopatra - Nikki M. James Ftatateeta - Diane D'Aquila Ptolemy - Paul Dunn Pothinus - Timothy D. Stickney Theodotus - David Collins Achillas - Roy Lewis Rufio - Peter Donaldson Britannus - Steven Sutcliffe Lucius Septimius - John Vickery
With: Gareth Potter, Gordon S. Miller, Ian Lake, Andre Sills, Brian Tree, Michelle Monteith, Sophia Walker, Jesse Aaron Dwyre, Wayne Best, Aidan deSalaiz, Dalal Badr, Alana Hawley, Daniel Jewal, Melanie Keller, Azeem Nathoo, Trent Pardy, Stacie Steadman.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Legit News from Variety

Loading